In this article, I will outline an approach to gleaning insights from primary qualitative research data. This article is not a how-to for creating the design tools that are often the outputs of primary qualitative user research—such as personas, mental models, or user scenarios. Instead, it identifies an approach to generating overarching insights, regardless of the design tool you want to create.
Bad interviews can result in missing data, incomplete detail, misleading results, partial insights, and lost opportunities. Your reports, presentations, and recommendations document what you’ve learned from your research and the decisions you’ve made based on it, so you need to ensure your research is the best it can be—that you get good interviews.
An interview is a funny situation. It's like a friendly conversation between strangers, but unlike the kind you may have on the bus. When chatting on the bus, people try very hard to agree with each other and to quickly communicate interesting information. Each person wants to be liked and adjusts the way they speak and what they say so as not to offend. This type of exchange is perfectly fine for maintaining civil society -- deeper exchanges can always happen as an acquaintance deepens -- but shallow banter isn't appropriate for an interview. You need to find out what someone is experiencing, what they're thinking, or what their real opinions are.
I had a great talk the other night with a classmate of mine from graduate school, who focused on usability and now works on a web application development team as their user experience designer. He’s Tim Keirnan, and I asked him to explain some of his interview techniques that he uses for his Design Critique podcast. I also got great snippets about his user interviews.
As user experience designers, a key component to nearly all the techniques we use in our practice is the one-on-one interview. It's the basis of requirements gathering, usability testing, and task analysis. In order to remove our personal biases, expectations and opinions from the questions asked, I practice a kind of questioning technique called the nondirected interview. The questions asked are at the heart of any interview. Following are a loose set of guidelines to help you frame questions in a way that elicits honest and accurate responses.
Interviewing is an artful skill that is at the core of a wide variety of research methods in user-centered design, including stakeholder interviews, contextual inquiry, usability testing, and focus groups. Consequently, a researcher’s skill in conducting interviews has a direct impact on the quality and accuracy of research findings and subsequent decisions about design. Skilled interviewers can conduct interviews that uncover the most important elements of a participant’s perspective on a task or a product in a manner that does not introduce interviewer bias. Companies hire user researchers and user-centered designers because they possess this very ability.
In part one, Michael shared how to navigate company politics to set up great stakeholder interviews. Here he covers his five tips for navigating company politics, avoiding client bias, and eliciting the information you need to inform your design.
Gathering business requirements from stakeholders is critical to good design, but setting up quality interviews can be tough. Tossing out the org chart may be the best way to figure out who really wields influence over a company's website.